State Dept. Now Says Bolton Interviewed

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 29 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.N. ambassador, mistakenly told Congress he had not been interviewed or testified in any investigation over the past five years, the State Department said Thursday.

Bolton was interviewed by the State Department inspector general in 2003 as part of a joint investigation with the Central Intelligence Agency into prewar Iraqi attempts to buy nuclear materials from Niger, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said.

The admission came hours after another State Department official said Bolton had correctly answered a Senate questionnaire when he wrote that he has not testified to a grand jury or been interviewed by investigators in any inquiry over the past five years.

The reversal followed persistent Democratic attempts to question Bolton's veracity just days before Bush may use his authority to make him United Nations ambassador after Congress adjourns for its summer recess. For months, Democrats have prevented the Senate from confirming the fiery conservative to the post.

"It seems unusual that Mr. Bolton would not remember his involvement in such a serious matter," said Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del., the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "In my mind, this raises more questions that need to be answered. I hope President Bush will not make the mistake of recess appointing Mr. Bolton."

The new information does not change the Bush administration's commitment to Bolton's nomination, said a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the subject.

When Bolton filled out a Senate questionnaire in March in connection with his nomination, "he didn't recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general. Therefore, his form, as submitted, was inaccurate," Clay said. "He will correct it."

Clay said Bolton, formerly undersecretary for arms control and international security, had no role in a separate criminal investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA official's identity.

The response came after Biden wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserting Bolton had been interviewed and suggesting he had not been truthful in his questionnaire.

Biden learned about the interview by asking the inspector general's office, according to a Democratic committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to be identified in news reports.

Democrats have tried to turn up the pressure on Bolton, hoping to persuade Bush not to appoint him on a temporary basis while Congress is on its summer recess.

Rice and other officials refused to rule out a recess appointment for Bolton. "What we can't be is without leadership at the United Nations," Rice said on the PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."

While the State Department and criminal investigations are independent, they spring from the same source — intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy materials in Africa to produce nuclear weapons.

In the criminal probe, a federal grand jury is investigating who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the news media. Biden had earlier asked Rice about a report that Bolton was among State undersecretaries who "gave testimony" about a classified memo that has become an important piece of evidence in the leak investigation.

Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA in 2002 to check out the intelligence about Iraqi nuclear intentions. Wilson could not verify it and his public criticism of Bush's Iraq policy in July 2003 set in motion a chain of events that led to an ongoing criminal investigation and the jailing of a New York Times reporter who refused to cooperate with it.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, citing unidentified Bush administration officials, was the first to disclose in July 2003 that Plame worked for the CIA and suggested her husband for the Niger trip. Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper wrote a subsequent story and included her name.

It can be illegal to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA official. Wilson has accused the White House of trying to discredit him because he accused the White House of twisting intelligence to justify an Iraq invasion.

It is unknown whether Novak has cooperated with investigators, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said in court papers that his investigation was complete as far back as October 2004, except for the testimony of two reporters — Cooper and the Times' Judith Miller.

Cooper has since testified before the grand jury. Miller has been in jail since July 6 for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald.

Bush political aide Karl Rove and vice presidential chief of staff Lewis "Scotter" Libby were among Cooper's sources, he reported following his grand jury appearance. They are among several high-ranking administration officials who have given grand jury testimony.

While Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the agency, he has insisted through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name.

Among the many mysteries in this case is that there was apparently at least one other government official who disclosed to a reporter that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter, wrote in the summer edition of the Nieman Foundation publication Nieman Reports that the official talked to him two days before Novak published his column.

Pincus did not disclose his source. But he said he has cooperated with prosecutors and that his source also has been interviewed.